This chert adze blank from the cave site of Song Gupuh, West Java, Indonesia. The adze blank was recovered from a layer dated to ca. 2600 BP, within the Neolithic period in Indonesia. Artefact on loan to Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology, University of New England.
This chert adze blank from Song Gupuh has a rectangular cross section made by indirect percussion using a punch. Punch-flaking was used extensively during the Neolithic period to make rectangular-sectioned chert and chalcedony adzes on Java and Flores in Indonesia. The squared-off edges were expertly prepared along one side. On one of the two platform edges, the side of the negative scar from the prior removals served as the platform for the next removal. This created a zig-zagged edge shape. The flakes from the zig-zagged edge propagated most of the way or all of the way across the adze’s side, to the opposite edge. On the other side of the blank, one squared edge was established, but not the opposite edge. The blank broke on a soft pocket within the chert blank, visible on the broken end. The final stages of manufacturing a rectangular-sectioned chert adze involved grinding off most or all of the flake scars on the faces and sides.
Edge-ground stone axes and adzes were made by ca. 32,000-38,000 BP in the Japanese archipelago, and 19,000-21,000 BP in southern China. These are the oldest in the world outside Australia, where they date to over 40,000 years old. The earliest axes were flaked to shape with a bifacially ground edge on one end.
Flaked and pecked axes with rounded or lenticular cross-sections were made across Asia and the pacific throughout prehistory, but axes with rectangular cross-sections were especially popular in some regions. The squared edges on axes and adzes made from igneous or volcanic stones were often made entirely by grinding, but in some regions the edges were squared-off by flaking, probably using an indirect percussion technique and a bone, antler, or stone punch. This indirect percussion-flaking technique was used in East Java and Flores, Indonesia, by 2600 BP, and was also used in New Zealand and perhaps northeastern India. The technique and manufacturing stages are strikingly similar to indirect percussion axe-making at about the same time in Northern Europe, and the technique was almost certainly developed in these areas independently as a stone working ‘good trick’.
Axes and adzes in Asia proliferated in late prehistory into a bewildering array of sizes and shapes that reflect regional trends. In Northeast Thailand, adzes were made with tangs at the proximal end, called ‘shouldered adzes’ by archaeologists. In parts of Indonesia, axe- and adze-makers began grinding the top surface into two facets with a ridge down the centre. Ceremonial gouges were made on Java with a central ridge first made by indirect percussion ‘stitching’ similar to that seen on stone dagger handles made in Denmark. A gouge is similar to an adze, but with a U-shaped working edge rather than a straight one. These Javanese gouges were made from spectacular stones, such as chalcedony and agate, and the flake scars from manufacture were completely removed by grinding.
Jade axes were made in China from about 7000 years ago, along with elaborately carved jade ‘dagger-axes’. Jade axes were perforated near the middle or proximal end as an aid in hafting. Axes with preserved handles have been discovered, showing that they were inserted into a hole in the wood handle and were wedged tight through use. An image engraved onto a Liangzhu Culture pot (ca. 4300-5300 BP), which portrays a perforated axe, shows that the hole was used for a string binding.
Elaborate jade and basalt adzes were also made in late prehistory and into the recent past by Maori people in New Zealand. Some were made with elaborately-shaped proximal ends for hafting, with extremely fine, sharp cutting edges. Similar examples were made in Hawaii. The basalt examples were made by a combination of flaking, pecking, and grinding, while the jade adzes were made mostly by sawing and grinding augmented in the haft area by pecking. These tools were essential for making the elaborate wood carvings on ceremonial houses and canoes, and certain jade examples were used exclusively for ceremony. Maori also made narrow gouges with round cross sections.
This artefact is from the cave site of Song Gupuh. Song Gupuh (meaning ‘Flee Cave’ in Javanese) is located under the overhanging side of a collapsed underground cavern. The road to Punung bisects the site. Rockshelters are present along the scarps on the margins of the collapse on both sides of the road. Song Gupuh is very large, measuring 50 m long, 13 m wide, and 13 m high at the entrance. The surface of the deposits were flattened in 1960 so local people could hold meetings and performances in the cave. The site was originally excavated by archaeologists R. P. Soejono and Harry Allen in the late 1990s, followed by additional excavations in 2004-2005 by Soejono and Michael J. Morwood to search for deep cultural deposits. Fill in one of the earlier 2 x 2 metre excavations was removed and excavation continued to 16 metres below the surface, without reaching bedrock. Artefacts were found to 12.5 m below the surface, dating to ca. 50,000 BP.